With Connor O’Brien and Paul McLeary
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— The Pentagon is giving up on the embattled JEDI cloud computing contract and will seek multiple companies to fulfill its data warehousing needs.
— The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is now 90 percent complete, but Russia could make follow-on plans more difficult.
— A big military shipbuilder is making a big push for AI in a major acquisition in what is seen as a harbinger for the industry.
HAPPY WEDNESDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we chuckled in learning that in at least one instance patently fake news turned out to be true, a decade later. Check out this Associated Press dispatch from Afghanistan about the U.S. military withdrawal on Monday and this satire from The Onion in 2011. You can’t make this stuff up. Or can you? We’re always on the lookout for tips, pitches and feedback. Email us at [email protected], and follow on Twitter @bryandbender, @morningdefense and @politicopro.
‘SIGNIFICANT DISCREPANCIES’: Two leading progressive lawmakers are appealing to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to overhaul how the military tracks civilian casualties, arguing that the Pentagon is undercounting the noncombatants caught in the crossfire of military operations.
“The Department reported 23 civilians killed and 10 civilians injured as a result of U.S. military operations last year, but estimates from credible civilian casualty monitors and the United Nations suggest that number is almost five times higher,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ro Khanna wrote in a letter on June 30 that was released on Tuesday.
“As a first step,” they added, “we request that you review why these significant discrepancies in civilian casualty counts persist, and take steps to ensure that U.S. military investigations into civilian casualties give greater weight to external sources of information rather than relying solely on its own internal records and sources when assessing third party reports of civilian harm.”
‘THE WRONG MESSAGE’: The six female veterans in Congress are pressuring the Pentagon to maintain a top advisory panel that oversees issues related to women in the military. In a letter, the lawmakers warned Austin that disbanding the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services would “harm women in the Armed Forces by eliminating an important advocacy component.”
“It would send the wrong message to every woman currently serving in the military or to those who have worn our nation’s uniform and sacrificed,” they wrote. “We believe we can tackle diversity, equity, and inclusion without disbanding one of the military’s most effective tools to advance women.”
The panel’s work was paused and its membership cleared out as part of Austin’s “zero-based review” of Pentagon boards and commissions in February. Military.com reported last month that Pentagon leadership is weighing discontinuing the decades-old panel in its current form and incorporating it in a new, broader panel aimed at addressing diversity and inclusion.
JULY HEARINGS: The House Armed Services Committee unveiled its post-recess July hearing schedule on Tuesday, including several oversight hearings next week. All seven subcommittees are also set to mark up their portions of the National Defense Authorization Act during the final week of July. Check out the full schedule.
The Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane holds its Nuclear Triad and Advanced Conventional Strike Symposium, at 8:45 a.m.
Rep. Mike Turner, the ranking Republican on the HASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee, participates in a Hudson Institute virtual event at noon.
The Intelligence National Security Alliance hosts a conversation with Rear Adm. Mike Studeman, Indo-Pacific Command intelligence chief, at 4:30 p.m.
CANCELED, IT IS: “The Pentagon on Tuesday canceled its massive JEDI cloud contract, ending a chapter in the department’s yearslong quest to stitch together classified networks that saw a public battle between tech giants and accusations that former President Donald Trump sullied the process,” our colleagues Lara Seligman, Emily Birnbaum and Paul McLeary report for Pros.
“The decision to cancel the contract and head in a new direction comes a year after a federal court ruled that the Pentagon stop work on the contract, which went to Microsoft in 2019. The court last year sided with former bidder Amazon, which argued in a 2019 lawsuit that it lost the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure … contract to Microsoft because Trump derided the company and its founder, Jeff Bezos.”
In its place, the Pentagon said it will pursue the new the Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability, which it will split up “a limited number of sources, namely the Microsoft Corporation (Microsoft) and Amazon Web Services (AWS), as available market research indicates that these two vendors are the only Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) capable of meeting the Department’s requirements.”
However, it added, “the Department will immediately engage with industry and continue its market research to determine whether any other U.S.-based hyperscale CSPs can also meet the DoD’s requirements. If so, the Department will also negotiate with those companies.”
Blast radius: “The cancellation of the contract could have significant knock-on effects for other parts of the Pentagon’s overall modernization plan. Tied up with JEDI is an emerging strategy called the Joint Warfighting Concept, envisioned as a blueprint for how the different services can work together within that cloud to share information in real time.
Also tied up is the Joint All Domain Command and Control effort, “which is the operational piece of stitching together surveillance assets with shooters — aircraft or artillery or ships — that can act quickly on gathered information.”
RELYING ON MOSCOW: U.S. Central Command on Tuesday said the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan is now 90 percent complete as the two-decade operation nears its conclusion next month, our colleague Lara Seligman reports.
The U.S. has also officially handed over seven facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense, CENTCOM said in a statement, even as the Taliban take over more districts and worries grow about security of the U.S. embassy in Kabul, as The Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Keeping a lid on things may require turning to another foe for help: Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as Lara also reports. “The Biden administration has in recent weeks quietly engaged Central Asian governments in the hope of using one or more of the countries as bases after the withdrawal is complete,” she writes. “The U.S. has two main requests: a staging post for keeping an eye on terrorist activity in Afghanistan, and temporarily hosting thousands of Afghans seeking visas.”
“But Moscow could use its significant economic and military influence in the region to jam up those plans, U.S. officials and experts say.
“Russia sees the Central Asian States region as its area of influence — and it doesn’t welcome others, particularly the United States, in those areas,” said retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, who commanded forces in Afghanistan under former President Barack Obama.
Related: Taliban try to polish their image as they push for victory, via The New York Times.
Plus: What America didn’t understand about its longest war, via POLITICO Magazine.
SHIP TO SHORE: The nation’s largest military shipbuilder, Huntington Ingalls Industries, is buying Alion Science and Technology in a $1.6 billion deal, the company said Tuesday, Paul McLeary reports for Pros.
The acquisition of Alion, which provides research and development in AI, data analysis, and intelligence and surveillance, marks a major move for a company that has traditionally been focused on building aircraft carriers and destroyers. “We have a big platform business, that’s been our core,” Mike Petters, HII’s chief executive, told analysts in a Tuesday conference call.
“What we see happening in the big platform business is the platforms are the base for enhancing a future Navy that’s going to rely [more] on unmanned, it’s going to rely on distributed operations and it’s going to look for asymmetric solutions.”
PLANE SPOTTING: The Air Force on Tuesday unveiled a new illustration of what its B-21 Raider bomber will look like, along with a new cost estimate of how much each of the projected 145 planes will run.
The long-range nuclear-capable bomber is slated to replace the B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit in the coming years, joining the B-52 as the Air Force’s bomber fleet of the future.
The sketch — the first since January 2020 — comes with a new fact sheet that puts the price tag of the $80 billion program at $639 million per plane for the Northrop Grumman made aircraft. The first plane should see a flight test in mid-2022.
The Air Force, meanwhile, has awarded Raytheon a $2 billion contract to develop the Long Range Standoff Weapon, a nuclear-capable, air-launched cruise missile for the B-21 and B-52 to replace the 1970-era AGM-86B air-launched cruise missile, which was designed in the 1970s. Eventually, the Air Force could buy more than 1,000 of the new missiles, which will have a range of over 1,500 miles.
‘THROWING MONEY AT THE PROBLEM HASN’T WORKED’: That’s the takeaway of the new self-published book titled “The Ever Shrinking Fighting Force” by Arnold Punaro, the retired Marine Corps Reserve major general and fixture of defense policy as a former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee and top defense industry executive.
The acquisition system, whose motto he calls “spend more, take longer, get less,” is broken and it’s long past time for “transformative reforms,” he says.
But haven’t we heard it all before? “We are at a huge inflection point right now as we come out of Afghanistan,” he tells us. “The Pentagon is really going to have to refocus its efforts. We are not going to be able to deal with a rising China. Throwing more money at the problem hasn’t worked. You have a budget that’s higher in constant dollars than the peak of the Reagan buildup with a million less active-duty personnel, 35 to 40 percent less fighting units. And we don’t have a lot of time to do this.”
Is there a consensus? “I do think the Congress and the Pentagon are feeling the pressure,” said Punaro, who is also chair of the board of the National Defense Industrial Association. “I don’t think we have had this compelling case in terms of the external threat that we have today. And I don’t think we have had the bipartisan agreement and the administration agreement all at the same time.”
Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security for counterterrorism, has joined open-source intelligence firm Moonshot as chief strategy officer.
Paul Lawrence, most recently VA undersecretary overseeing benefits, has started a consulting firm that advises organizations that help veterans.
— Unlikely coalition of veterans backs Biden on ending Afghan war: The New York Times